The Best Gear for Taking a Kid Backpacking
Heading into the wilderness with your hiker-in-training? This gear will make the trip as fun for you as it is for your little one.
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Featherweight Shelter: Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL4
$700 | 5 lbs. 11 oz.
You’ve already got more than enough extra weight to contend with when backpacking with a preschooler. Thankfully, the Copper Spur HV UL4 is one of the lightest four-person tents on the market, weighing in at only 1 pound 4 ounces per occupant and packing down to the size of a rolled-up yoga mat. With 57 square feet of floor space and 50 inches of headroom, sleeping four adults is a bit tight, but it was plenty for two adults, a 4-year-old, and an 80-pound labrador. The tent’s 12 interior pockets swallowed water bottles, phones, and even a cribbage set. The Copper Spur’s PU-coated ripstop nylon fly, 7-inch-high tub floor, and prebent aluminum poles stayed strong during a torrential thunderstorm near 10,000 feet at Firehole Lakes in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. On sunny days, the trekking pole-assisted vestibule awnings make for an ideal front porch. And thanks to a full mesh canopy, your kiddo can fall asleep while stargazing on clear nights.
Ultralight Quilt: Enlightened Equipment Accomplice 2-Person 20°F
$480 | 2 lbs. 5 oz. (regular)
In my hunt for the lightest, most comfortable child-snuggling sleep system, the Accomplice quilt is a major score. Weighing just over 2 pounds and packing down to the size of a small bear canister, the 850-fill down quilt is a lighter, more compact carry than bringing two sleeping bags or one double bag. Even without zippers, we stayed toasty on spring nights near the
Accomplice’s temperature rating. An enclosed toe box kept our feet cozy while a snap-top, cinchable neck blocked drafts. One of the main benefits of quilt-sleeping with a kiddo is the freedom of movement. It was easy to throw open one side for more ventilation and the included pad straps keep people, pads, and quilt in place. The 10-denier, DWR-finish nylon fabric is sturdy enough for a rambunctious kindergartener. Ding: The price. Sizes: regular, long, extra-long
Roomy Pad: Exped Ultra 3R Duo
$300 | 2 lbs. 9 oz. (long-wide)
This 51-inch-wide mega-mat is so spacious that it sleeps two adults and a small child if your little one has nightmares. (The 72-inch-long, 41-inch-wide medium pad is still roomy with one adult and child.) Thanks to a tapered design that’s 40 inches at the foot, this pad packs down to the size of a bread loaf and weighs just 2.5 pounds. With an R-Value of 2.9, the three-season Ultra 3R Duo proved plenty warm in temps just below freezing when we took a trip to Glendo Reservoir in central Wyoming. Separate inflation valves for each half offer individualized firmness, and neither myself nor my daughter felt the other move at night on the three-inch-thick pad. While the lightweight, recycled 20-denier ripstop polyester held up fine to child-related shenanigans inside the tent, we wouldn’t trust it as an outdoor loungepad. Sizes: medium, long-wide
Portable Game Night: Outside Inside Travel Backpack Cribbage Board
When you’ve got nothing but time, you’ll be extra grateful for bringing along this half-pound travel cribbage set. The 13- by 3.3-inch board is light, durable, and folds in half to keep a deck of cards secure. It’s exactly what you and your partner need when heading into the tent with a sleepy child at 8 p.m. The board allows space for up to three players, which means you can teach your child, too, and secure another activity for rainy, cold evenings.
Indestructible Groundsheet: Outdoor Products All Purpose Tarp
$6 | 11 oz. (6’x8’)
Yes, this tarp does the basics, like keeping our stove and bags dry during a sudden thunderstorm on a rafting trip in interior Alaska. But the durable polyethylene sheet also protected our crawling kid from sharp rocks, pokey sticks, and prickly pine cones while we set up camp. Reinforced grommets mean the All Purpose Tarp is easy to rig as a makeshift shelter for more hangout space, too. You may sacrifice a few ounces for this dead-cheap groundsheet, but having an indestructible, kid-proof layer that can be hosed down is worth it.
Sizes: 6’x8’, 8’x10’, 12’x14’
Snack Pack: Deuter Kikki Children’s Backpack
$50 | 12 oz.
Our daughter’s first solo-powered backpacking trip at age 3 was successful largely because she had access to her own snacks. The 100-percent recycled polyester Kikki is small enough to fit kids aged 3 to 5, holds 8 liters, and weighs only 12 ounces. An easy-to-unclip top flap and drawstring opening offers child-friendly access to an internal stretch pocket, making it easy to separate snacks and toys. A sternum buckle keeps well-padded shoulder straps from slipping down, while stretchy side pockets on either side each hold small water bottles. Cute bunny ears are a big draw for the kids, too. Sizes: one size
Breezy Hangout: ENO DoubleNest Hammock
$75 | 1 lb. 3 oz.
My family spends hours cuddling and reading books inside the DoubleNest anytime we are below treeline. It’s an affordable, durable hammock that works equally well for hanging out and sleeping while managing to keep its weight down. This hammock is 9.5 feet long, holds up to 400 pounds, is plenty spacious for an adult and child, and can even squeeze in an extra parent while still packing down to the size of a grapefruit. The quick-dry, 70-denier nylon-taffeta material is airy on hot days and is triple-stitched around the body and anchor loops. If you want to rock yourself to sleep at night, the DoubleNest is also compatible with ENO’s system of bug nets, rain tarps, and insulation.
Kiddo Cadillac: Osprey Poco Plus
$340 | 7 lbs. 14 oz.
The Poco Plus carries up to nearly 50 pounds while still feeling like a cushy backpacking pack thanks to a sturdy, full-wrap aluminum frame, breezy trampoline back mesh, and 6-inch adjustable torso for swapping carrying duties between parents. My shoulders and back emerged pain-free after three days and 12 miles of hauling my daughter through the Bighorn Mountains of central Wyoming. But where the Poco Plus excels is in child comfort: A slightly angled headrest is perfect for naps, ventilated side panels keep your kid cool, and a built-in sunshade doubles as a rain cover frame. The cinchable front-facing harness is more adjustable and fits snugger than most: It kept my wiggly 3-year-old contained as I forded rocky creeks and high-stepped over logs. Nine pockets store snacks, extra clothes, and water bottles, with a diaper-swallowing 17-liter bottom pocket that’s a breeze to clean. Sizes: one size